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April Fool's, Not!

Paul and Mary Kohlmiller


It is often the temptation of newsletter editors to make an April Fools issue. Stock it up with fake stories and bizarre headlines. But in astronomy that would be working too hard. The seemingly bizarre headlines aren’t jokes — they are reality. Most of these headlines would have looked like April Fools jokes just a few years ago.

Pluto has three moons — Oh come on now, we are still trying to get our arms around the idea that Pluto isn’t even a planet and now it has as many moons as all terrestial planets combined? I mean we can forgive one moon, we see individual moons around asteroids. But three around Pluto?

We have 10 planets — This was a conspiracy theorist’s fantasy headline for decades but now you tell me we have a tenth planet? Oh, so I suppose one of those other Kuiper Belt Objects is going to be a planet. But it’s larger than Pluto? Oh my.

SuitSat Launched from Space Station — Like an outtake from a space disaster movie, pictures are sent to earth showing a full size space suit drifting out to space; untethered with no way to return. But it was all true and all on purpose. An empty spacesuit, no longer needed and taking up valuable space, was tossed out into space without an occupant but with a low power radio.

Space Dust collected in Jello — Well not exactly Jello, aerogel — a substance only slightly denser than air. The Stardust mission collected interstellar dust particles and, more importantly, dust coming off of a comet and it landed in the mud of Utah last January. Would you believe the SJAA was represented on a plane chasing the spacecraft?

Tau Ceti Makes the Short List — That would be the short list (10 in all) of stars that may have Earth-like planets. Sound like Star Trek? Tau Ceti was mentioned more than once in that television series and here it lands on the short list of stars that SETI and the yet-to-be-launched Terrestial Planet Finder should be searching.

Supernovae are Rare. Not! — In 2005, 340 supernovae were discovered. Ho-hum.

Pros and Joes, Cosmic Version — Average people, well, average geeks anyway, can use their computers to help analyze information from the Stardust mission. A version of Seti@Home will soon be running on thousands of personal computers that works this time for Stardust Mission. Estimated start date: April 1, of course.

Martian Northern Lights — It was generally believed that a large, planetary magnetic field was necessary to create aurorae such as the Aurora Borealis. Now we find that magnetic fields in the crust of Mars is enough to create this phenomena. It still isn’t quite like the Northern Lights however, the aurora appears in the UV only.

Water Geysers Supply the E-Ring — Is that Pentagon TV show still on? No, not that E-Ring. We mean the ring around Saturn. Turns out that a Saturnian moon, Enceladus, spurts out water which is instantly frozen and becomes a source of the E-Ring particles. But dig this, if liquid water is present on Enceladus, might some primitive form of life be there also?

Earth Strikes Back — 65 million years after taking a hit that was more than a bad hair day for dinosaurs, Earth turned the tables and slammed into a comet. This was the Deep Impact mission.

Andromeda Strain Could Work — One of the big problems with the movie Andromeda Strain is that they want us to believe a virus or bacterium could survive a meteoric introduction to Earth. But a scientist believes that some bacteria from the ill-fated Columbia mission survived the destruction and fiery fall. It fell at only 20% of the speed of a meteorite but who knows. An article is scheduled for the May issue of Icarus.

Need the references for this article? We got a lot of information at


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